Small theatre’s struggle for survival: Industry speaks out

Independent theatre producers have slammed the mainstream media for the way they cover smaller shows, and have spoken about the massive costs in keeping the vital sector alive.

Anne-Maree McDonald, who recently produced a one night only concert version of the little-known show Floyd Collins, said the media was struggling to provide the right level of support for the arts.

She said that independent musical theatre deserved more media support.

“How else is the public to know about it? However that requires Arts Editors who are actually interested, nay, passionate about the art form,” she said.

The Sydney Morning Herald recently declined a rather difficult to come by interview with Floyd Collins/Light In The Pizza composer Adam Guettel. Despite his numerous awards, (including Tony, Drama Desk, Lortel, Obie, Barrymore) the paper thought that a one off performance of Floyd Collins didn’t warrant any space at all on Guettel (the grandson of Richard Rodgers and much praised protégée of Stephen Sondheim).

“The same newspaper also sent along a reviewer more commonly asked to review pop or blues concerts. Floyd Collins is a complex piece of Music Theatre. Clearly he didn’t get it at all. Is there hope for us?”

Jane Miskovic, whose company Triptych Theatre is producing Musical of Musicals in Sydney, agrees.

“Even at a smaller scale, independent theatre can produce quality shows to rival big-budget productions, but it is much more challenging to cover our still extraordinary costs with a much more modest advertising push and a smaller audience base while still attempting to keep ticket costs low,” she said.

“Independent shows often get the best marketing from word of mouth, reviews and street press, but those methods take time, and often the run of the show is over before the word has gotten out there.”

There seems to be a fear that independent producers may walk away from the industry if more support doesn’t come.

“It’s almost impossible when the on stage numbers cost beyond what the box office can achieve,” McDonald explained.

“Unless you ask professional actors to work for nothing, or next to it, which is of course what they are asked to do time and time again. In Sydney it is also difficult to find a medium sized space. We were incredibly lucky that Bronwyn Edinger, General Manager of City Recital Hall Angel Place, got behind Floyd Collins. Otherwise it would still be languishing in a box at Origin Theatrical. Ultimately though, Floyd would be more suited to a smaller venue, which is hard to find.”

But McDonald isn’t walking away herself just yet.

“The shows of Adam Guettel, Jason Robert Brown, William Finn, John Bucchino, Kitt and Yorkey, Rutherford and Millar, Matty Robinson, Kerrigan and Lowdermilk, Pasek and Paul, Scott Alan, Pete Mills, Michael Arden, Bartram and Hill etc resonate with me,” she said.

“Musically modern, very often urban, pithy, lyric driven shows/stories about relationships, families…real life stuff.”

Miskovic agrees that there’s plenty of passion behind independent producers that will help to keep the sector afloat in troubled times.

“There are so many fantastic stories that bigger companies are unlikely to pick up, so many more talented Australian performers than there are roles to play, and countless creative opportunities that individuals and groups can make for themselves to explore and present that, with a brave soul, a bit of elbow grease, and a fair amount of insanity, independent theatre can provide,” she said.

“There is an audience for us, we just need help reaching them, and the more the performing arts community work together to provide great and affordable nights of entertainment the more the public will make the effort to come to the theatre, rather than just reaching for the remote.”

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